Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Ask an honest question for a straight answer on Lisbon

The Lisbon Treaty is a constitutional document. It establishes a new federal state of Europe. It makes us citizens of that state with dual loyalties drawing us into a new status that compromises our present citizenship of Ireland.

This immutable reality is being deliberately tampered with and misrepresented by our politicians, not unexpectedly, but also in the recent opinion poll in 'The Irish Times' over the St Valentine's Day weekend, which seems to have found a change in attitude based on a change in the question. This asks us what we want to answer but leaves out what we might be fearful of.

The paper had an opinion poll on Lisbon before the Lisbon Treaty vote last June. It asked, on June 6: "Are you likely to vote 'Yes' for the treaty or 'No' against the treaty?"

Some 30pc said they would vote 'Yes', 35pc said they would vote 'No'. Six days later this translated into 46.6pc voting 'Yes' and 53.4pc voting 'No'. This simple yes/no query got a predictive answer.

Five months later, 'The Irish Times' ran a November poll on Lisbon. The Lisbon Treaty vote was anything but straightforward and its subsequent handling by the paper, by commentators and by politicians was misleading and deceptive.

The question asked, on November 10 and 11, was: "If the Lisbon Treaty is modified to allow Ireland to retain an EU Commissioner and other concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation are clarified in special declarations, would you vote 'Yes' or 'No' in another referendum?" Some 43pc said 'Yes' and 39pc said 'No'.

'The Irish Times' detected "a chink of optimism". It talked of "modifications" to Lisbon as though these were easy options for the European Union.

Not only were they not easy options, they were not options at all. And they will be scrutinised closely by the other 26 member states. Usually the soul of balance, 'The Irish Times' on this occasion placed a question that invited an answer favourable to the 'Yes' vote the paper has espoused.

The paper claimed this would "strengthen the Government's political confidence". Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin's confidence was so positive, on RTE's 'The Week in Politics' programme, before the poll findings were published, that it sounded frenetic.

He equated a second referendum with restoring Ireland's supposed "favoured status" in Europe and putting us "at the heart of European decision-making".

The St Valentine's Day poll was a further massacre of truthful opinion polling.

The question had now become: "In light of the commitment to allow Ireland to retain an EU Commissioner under the Lisbon Treaty along with legal guarantees to deal with other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation will you vote 'Yes' or 'No' in the second referendum on the treaty later in the year?"

There is no such commitment. There are no legal guarantees on the other points covered in the question. It is speculation about what might be. To present it otherwise is so to distort the opinion poll question as to prejudice the survey altogether. It astonishes me that 'The Irish Times' has done this twice. The least we rely on, in opinion polls, is that they be fair, balanced and objective. This was anything but, sliding into a deliberately loaded question.

The yes/no question might have edged closer to the truth, in terms of people's views or fears, had it covered questions about democracy, transparency and sovereignty. But all of that is shamefully excluded.

The reaction to the opinion poll, from the Taoiseach and Mr Martin, was a warning that referendum funding would be tightened up. This was aimed at Libertas leader Declan Ganley. Yet, as Mr Ganley said in an interview published on Thursday, the party has given clear answers on its funding and complied with regulations.

In November, Mr Martin put the retention of an Irish commissioner at the heart of his argument, when it has nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty cannot be "modified". The word has no meaning in the context of what others have ratified and we have rejected.

The treaty is fixed. Retention

of an Irish commissioner is not a referendum issue. On tax, there will always be a difficulty. There can be no immutable declarations. Nor is there any possibility of a meaningful declaration on neutrality.

On abortion, we simply stop it. We have turned ourselves upside down and inside out, legally, morally, constitutionally, making as much nonsense as we have made sense of it as an issue. It is not happening in Ireland, nor will it in the future.

Europe needs to restore better forms of democracy, answerability and transparency. Only in this way will its incompetence in financial response to crisis, its muddled military response to warfare and foreign threat, its limited and divided diplomatic response to foreign relations be set aside.

The Ganley interview in the Brussels-based magazine, 'Esharp' went unnoticed in 'The Irish Times' yesterday. Its Brussels correspondent reported on Graham Watson promising that Liberal Democrats and Liberals in Europe would give Fianna Fail referendum funding, reporting him also as saying, quite dishonestly, that a second 'No' vote would lead to the exit of Ireland from the EU! That's reporting for you.